Smokers, including state workers, will have to think twice before lighting up next year at most government buildings and grounds.
An executive order issued by Gov. John Kitzhaber last week prohibits state employees and individuals from using tobacco products inside state agency buildings and grounds — a ban that will be phased in during the next 17 months.
There are a few exceptions to the ban, including rest areas, public roads and sidewalks and public beaches.
Last week, I talked with a handful of state workers on Capitol Street NE where smokers are a common sight — along with discarded cigarette butts.
Some were skeptical that the ban would compel smokers to quit, which raised a question about whether smoking bans and restrictions in the workplace work.
Cathryn Cushing, who works for the Oregon Health Authority’s public health division, said the research is clear: smoke-free laws help tobacco users kick the habit.
“The reason why a smoke-free workplace helps is pretty simple,” she said. “Every little thing that makes it harder to smoke or use tobacco makes it easier to quit.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cites studies that show smoking bans and restrictions can reduce the amount of daily smoking among workers and increase the number of employees who stop smoking. By challenging the perception of smoking as a normal adult behavior, that change also trickles down to the behavior of youths, an online fact sheet stated.
For example, a 2005 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that employees who worked in places that maintained or implemented smoke-free policies were about twice as likely to quit smoking as employees who worked in places where they were allowed to smoke.
In Oregon, about 9 percent of 50,000 or so state employees are smokers. That figure is below the average of 16 percent for the general population.
Smoking-related illnesses are estimated to cost Oregon an estimated $2.5 billion annually — and $13 million directly to state government from higher insurance costs and lost productivity.
Cushing said the new restriction will help decrease the amount of tobacco users in the state and cut the spread of second-hand smoke.
The Oregon Health Authority also surveyed smokers after the Department of Human Services in 2008 banned smoking from its offices and grounds. A few employees cited the smoke-free workplace as one reason why they quit.
“I have just quit smoking after 31 years and one of the reasons I quit was because the building was going to become smoke free. So thank you for making a smoke-free workplace,” said an employee with the Department of Human Services.